When I transitioned from male to female, I lost four jobs, my pension, and the vast majority of my friends. On my bad days I wondered if my demise was inevitable. I was lost. But it is okay, because that is also when I realized lost is a place too, and there are times when you have no choice but to spend time there.
It was a time of great fear and questioning, what John of the Cross called, “The dark night of the soul.” As I have quoted many times, I believe it is what Dante was talking about at the beginning of the Divine Comedy when he said, “In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in a dark wood, where the true way was wholly lost.”
Did you ever wake up in the middle of the night in a blackened room and try to stumble your way to the bathroom, only to stub your toe on the corner of the bed? You know, if you had waited a minute or so after you opened your eyes, they would have adjusted to the darkness. You can still see in the dark.
I live in a low light community in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. After 35 years in New York, when I never knew the phases of the moon, in Colorado I always know if the moon is full or nearly so. Since I follow it all month, I also know if it is waxing or waning. It is waning now, but still formidable. It was full when I came home from Los Angeles last Thursday. A harvest moon illuminates like twilight. But even when there is no moon, if you are willing to sit in the dark for a while, the stars and ambient light in the atmosphere are enough to light your way.
I am not saying it is fun to find your way by the light of the night. But sometimes it is necessary. Fortunately, you eventually make your way to dawn. Daylight is good. Life is easier in the daytime. Happiness tends to come during daylight hours.
Happiness comes pretty much when you expect it. Grandchildren laugh, you’re happy. The first day of vacation, you’re happy. You get a promotion, you’re happy. Happiness is tied to external circumstances. As a privileged white man, happiness came often. Privilege brings more than a fair measure of external happiness. Privilege does not necessarily bring joy.
Joy comes when you find your way in the dark. Joy comes when you wait long enough in the place called lost until your eyes have adjusted, and you have enough light to see. Joy comes in that moment when you finally see a way forward, or at least the first step, and you take it.
There is a particular kind of joy that comes when the step you see in the dark is one that empowers others to embark on their own journey into the dark night, or into the light of dawn, depending on the day. The joy is in the knowing that their journey is sacred and holy and for the greater good, just like yours.
Odysseus wasn’t done journeying when he returned to Ithaca and was reunited with Penelope. He was a lover of experience and accepted another final journey, not back out to sea, but inland. He was to travel until he got to a place in which people did not know an oar when they saw one. There he was to plant the oar that he carried with him, as an offering of propitiation to the god Poseidon. Only then did he get to return home and live into “sleek old age.”
Like Odysseus, we are all on a journey, maybe our first, maybe our last, but all into the unknown, undertaken when it’d be much easier to stay on the couch with our feet propped on a hassock, binge watching somebody else’s journey. But this living is serious business, and we are pilgrims, always drawn forward through both the promising dawn and the dark of night. And for all the uncertainty of each journey, we can know these two things. We will not be without love, and if we keep our hearts turned steadfastly to the right, there will be joy.